I used to think of myself as a very flexible, spontaneous person. My friends disagreed with me, Karen saying that I was predictably unpredictable, but beyond that, very staid. See, I thought that planning something out a couple of weeks in advance, rather than the couple of months I prefer, made me incredibly spur of the moment. It wasn’t until the last few years that I have admitted the truth: I am a planner and I don’t like it when things are not according to my plan.
I can pick up and go on the spur of the moment. I’ve called B at work before and said, “Let’s go somewhere.” Six hours later we were in the car on our way out of state for the weekend. But I already had a hotel in mind (and booked before we left), and maps printed prior to making that phone call.
When I planned my trip to New York, I planned for New York. I planned for a hotel in case Isabella turned out to be a freak and I didn’t want to stay in her dorm with her. I planned an open ticket so I could get away fast if I needed to. I planned what I wanted to see, what I would wear, and had an idea of how to get around the city. I did not plan to end up in Virginia.
When Isabella suggested I travel with her to pick up her roommate, I was a little cranky about it. I like to think I hid it well, but the fact that she offered to pick up my travel expenses as apology for the confusion tells me I was probably much grouchier than I want you to believe. I want you to think well of me.
We made our way to Grand Central Station, and I was appropriately agog and touristy, fascinated and hayseed about being in America’s most famous train station. It served me well when Renae and I were trying to figure out the train station in London. All of the trains back to D.C. were booked until late at night. By late at night I mean we were leaving after 10pm.
That meant we had time to go have another $14 cheeseburger before embarking on our journey. I could not believe how expensive food was! See, had there been an internet, I could have better planned my budget. As it was, my cash supply was dwindling fast, and I was not going to call home and ask my parents to put money in my bank account. That was admitting defeat. I mentioned that to Isabella, and she said she could probably get me a short-term promotions job with her boss, and that would get me quick cash. Sounded good to me. Just passing out flyers or selling tickets. I could do that.
“My boss will love you,” she enthused. “You’re a fresh face, so you’ll be just what he wants. You could probably make $200 in a day.”
I started to get excited. “Just for passing out flyers and selling tickets?”
“Yeah! I’ll introduce you when we get back.”
Once we were on the train, Isabella settled in with her Walkman and a copy of the bootleg Duran Duran album I had smuggled to her via my friend Stephanie. This was a studio copy of what would become The Wedding Album, at that time under the working title of Four on the Floor. It’s still one of my favorite albums, and I can’t hear songs from it without being transported to the Manhattan fire escape where I spent so much time painting my nails. I painted my nails a LOT. I think I was a little OCD about it.
With Isabella tucked into her leather jacket, head in the musical clouds, I was left to my own devices. Without a book (and with my motion sickness issues, I wouldn’t have risked trying to read), or a friend to talk to, I started making friends with people sitting around me. By the end of that ride, I’d gotten to know five different riders, and one had even chased away and unwanted suitor.
Turned out that the guy sitting behind us (beside whom I ended up spending the majority of the ride) was from my mother’s hometown, had moved to Dallas and matriculated at my all-girl school’s brother school, and had graduated just a few years ahead of me, so we shared some mutual acquaintances. He was also safely gay, so we could enjoy a conversation without either one of us worrying that the other was trying to make a love connection, and gave me great tips on what sights to see, and what to avoid.
As long as the train ride was, once I was in the backseat of Isabella’s mother’s car, I was wishing it hadn’t ended.